On January 5, 1960, just three days after announcing that he would run for president, Senator John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, held a small dinner party in Washington, D.C. Their guests included Ben Bradlee, then Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief, and his then-wife, Tony, and Newsweek correspondent James M. Cannon. Cannon taped the conversation for research on a book he was writing. After he died, in September 2011, the tapes became part of the collection of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston; a transcript is published for the first time in the new book Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy, edited by Ted Widmer. In this exclusive excerpt, the candidate muses on the sources and purpose of power.
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JFK: This is on? Can it get me from there?
Bradlee: [unclear] How come? Was it Joe’s death that started the . . . ?
Cannon: Why did you get started in politics? Why were you ever interested in it?
JFK: In the thirties, when I was home from school, the conversation was always about politics. Want a cigar?
Cannon: It’s all right. Talk loud.
JFK: Not in the sense of sort of being emotionally stirred about great issues, but really, just about the whole interest of my father was [unclear] in politics, in the Roosevelt administration.
Cannon: . . . When did you take your first step? What year was that?
JFK: January ’46, with the election in June.
Cannon: This was for a seat in . . . ?